Summary: God saves a people and secures their future through the work of Jesus.
The Christian faith is first and foremost about a person, which distinguishes it from other religions. Certainly the Bible teaches great moral truths, but Christianity is NOT, essentially, a new morality. Fantastic churches and ministries do wonderful works in the name of the Lord, but Christianity is NOT, fundamentally, a system of good works. True believers write learned discourses explaining both the world in which we live and how to live in this world, but Christianity is NOT, primarily, a philosophy of living fruitfully in a fallen world.
Jesus is the essence of the faithâ€”who he is and what he did. At Christmas people sometimes say, â€œJesus is the reason for the season.â€ That is true, but we could expand it by saying, â€œJesus is the reason for the religion.â€ The Apostle Paul summarized his ministry as: â€œwe preach Christ crucified.â€
All Biblical preaching proclaims the cross of Christ, and some passages make that more obvious by their focus on the person and work of Jesus. Philippians 2.5-11 is one of those, Paulâ€™s great meditation on Christ before time, Christ in time, and Christ beyond time.
[Read Philippians 2.5-11. Pray.]
Once upon a time, a young shepherd grew bored while watching his flock. So he yelled, â€œWolf! Wolf! A wolf is among the sheep!â€
The villagers nearby ran with shovels and spears and hoes and picksâ€”it was a near carnival to see them all rush to his aid, and the boy laughed at the sight. They scolded him for his behavior, but he still enjoyed the relief.
A few weeks passed and he again felt desperate for some excitement. So he cried, â€œWolf! Wolf! A wolf is among the sheep!â€ Again the villagers came running, which delighted the boy tremendously, but the villagers were not amused.
The next day, a real wolf appeared. The shepherd boy, greatly alarmed, shouted in terror: â€œWolf! Wolf! A wolf is among the sheep! Please, come and help me!â€
But no one paid heed to his cries; no one came running. The wolf killed the sheep.
Why did the villagers not respond to the boyâ€™s cry? [Because they did not believe him.]
Did they believe that a Wolf existed? [Yes.]
Did they believe a Wolf could be dangerous? [Yes.]
Did they believe that if a Wolf were among the sheep, the result would be disastrous? [Yes.]
What then did they not believe? [They not believe that the boy was telling the truth.]
How do you know that they did not believe the boy? I did not say that in the story, so how do you know that? [Because they did not come running.]
True belief produces changed behavior. If we are not changed, it would seem to be that our faith is deficient or non-existent. When we truly believe, we come running when God calls.
It makes me wonder if people think of God like the villagers thought of the wolf. We live in a religious countryâ€”polls tell us that 90% of the population believes there is a God. I am not certain, but I would guess many feel that God can be dangerous, and that if he were truly among us (like a wolf or lion), then they would certainly act differently. But hearts and minds seem little changed by the faith professed.
God reminds us in Romans 12 to have our lives transformed by the renewing of our minds. And here in Philippians 2.5, we are commanded to have the mind of Christ. How are we to think like Jesus, and what effects will that have on our lives? I believe God would have us explore those questions from our text, noting, firstâ€¦
1. We Must Hope Because of Jesusâ€™ Eternal Divinity (Philippians 2.6)
The director of a medical clinic told of a terminally ill young man who came in for his usual treatment. A new doctor on duty said to him casually and cruelly, â€œYou know, donâ€™t you, that you wonâ€™t live out the year?â€ As the young man left, he stopped by the directorâ€™s desk and wept. â€œThat man took away my hope,â€ he blurted out. â€œI guess he did,â€ replied the director. â€œMaybe itâ€™s time to find a new one.â€
Lewis Smedes (who taught theology and ethics at Fuller Seminary for many years) wrote about that incident, â€œIs there a hope when hope is taken away? Is there hope when the situation is hopeless? In the Bible, hope is no longer a passion for the possible. It becomes a passion for the promise.â€
G. K. Chesterton: â€œHope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at allâ€¦. As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.â€